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Case Study: Holistic Life Schools learns the art, science of business sustainability

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Children work with their teacher in the garden at Holistic Life Schools
Children work with their teacher in the garden at Holistic Life Schools

At this Virginia Beach child care center, the name says it all—Holistic Life Schools has created culture where the mind, body, and human spirit meet. Founder Amanda Albright believes that connecting with nature and spending as much time as possible outdoors creates an ideal environment for learning. Her holistic approach has allowed them to successfully teach core concepts of science, literacy, and math, including STEM-oriented play. But success at the business level didn't go quite as smoothly, until Early Education Business Consultants stepped in.

Children at HLS, all ages 3 to 5, are consistently referred to as “peacemakers.” Likewise, their teachers are the “peacekeepers,” and parents are “peacegivers” who reinforce the learning. The school’s philosophy is engrained in both mindful self-awareness and community awareness. Meditation and movement are daily endeavors—and then there’s the sensory garden! Peacemakers help to maintain a wonderful patch of vegetables and herbs, while engaging with lessons on healthy eating habits.

Albright has been an educator since 2003, but also is a licensed mental health therapist working on her doctorate. She has combined the best of the Ages and Stages development assessment tool with other industry practices from MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support), a system widely embraced in public schools. Her husband Kip Albright covers the business functions, for which he is well-suited. With his degree in management information systems degree and MBA in executive leadership, Kip works to maximize resources and apply the business acumen required to run a successful early education center.

HLS is licensed for 64 children and currently serves 40. Even getting to this point wasn’t easy, considering the school opened in 2019—shortly before the pandemic. But with such an incredible program to offer, Albright was scratching her head why her business had still not become profitable.

“I have been so concerned about quality that I neglected the need for profit to sustain the business,” she said.

As she quickly learned, quality comes at a cost. The school provides catered, gluten-free meals, which is slightly more expensive than meal programs at other childcare centers. HLS’s various curricula and education programs—such as Brightwheel, and Childcare CRM—also carry costs. The school only hires degreed teachers and also employs a curriculum specialist and assessment specialist. All of these staff members are given rigorous professional development each year. And then, HLS is currently undergoing the pricey, time-consuming process of seeking accreditation through both NAEYC and Cognia.

“We go over and beyond to make sure that Holistic provides quality education, even though it comes at a great cost,” Amanda said. “Nevertheless, we manage to provide this quality at an affordable rate to the parents. I want good education to be affordable. I wish it could be free.”

Luckily, Albright’s business challenges have seen a rapid turnaround over the past few months, thanks to support from local experts.

She connected with Virginia Beach Growsmart, which offered Albright targeted advice and resources. As a sub-organization of the Virginia Beach Economic Department, VB Growsmart is a key contributor to increasing the availability of child care slots in Virginia Beach. Albright was soon advised to reconnect with Early Education Business Consultants, also located in Virginia Beach—which had first worked with her a few years beforehand when she attended their Early Education Business Program before launching her own center. The consultants helped HLS spot areas in need of improvement—especially their business systems and online presence. They gave Albright and her staff the tools and guidance to help them reach new customers while building systems to sustain a quality program.

“We had to work through some major hurdles with Google, which was not showing their business,” explained Lauren Small, CEO of Early Education Business Consultants. “Kip and I just kept at it, and they are now showing up on Google with reviews. We also worked to improve the SEO for their website. This is just one small example of taking their role in the community very seriously in support of working parents.”

Albright said that the processes and procedures the consultants implemented have been invaluable. The CRM she selected, Brightwheel, has enabled the center to vastly step up communication with parents. Families get daily individual photos of their child during every block throughout the day! This is also proved an excellent marketing tool—during the trial day for their child, potential customers can see if Brightwheel is a good fit for them, and parents can know right away how everything is going because of the photos they receive. The result is a 95-97% conversion rate for registering children at HLS. Those parents who do not register typically have a child who is not potty trained, a requirement for attendance.

The Albrights also have worked hard to develop better processes for employee retention and engagement. They seldom lose employees, and most of the time when they do, it’s due to military orders. Their nine employees (two part-time and seven full-time) currently receive paid holidays and spring break after 90 days, and Amanda and Kip are working on additional benefits.

Amanda has a big vision of expansion, while Kip helps keep an eye on profit—which has been facilitated by his work with Bill Holloran of the Hampton Roads Small Business Development Center (a partner of Early Education Business Consultants).

“Bill understands profit first,” explained Kip. “He has years of experience, and I appreciate how he gives his advice in a straightforward manner. We have been meeting every other week since before we opened. He really helped with the transition to a leadership role and how to deal with employees.”

Meanwhile, Amanda has helped the center continue to bolster its quality. From conferences with parents and weekly meetings with each lead teacher, to an internship program for graduate students in in counseling to provide intense emotional development support, HLS is invested in the holistic well-being of each child and their family.

Case in point: HLS achieved a Level 4 rating in Virginia Quality, the state’s rating and improvement system for early childhood programs.

“They have done so much work on their business,” said Small. “This is a really great place for kids and a delight to work with as we continue to help them develop marketing and technology to reach capacity and plan for expansion.”

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